AMERICA The X-Press Interview

America has been around for almost 50 years – ironically starting in London where they met when their fathers were stationed there as members of the US Air Force; where they penned their first hit, 1971’s A Horse With No Name. KAREN LOWE spoke with the band’s Gerry Beckley about changes within the music industry, their biggest gig playing to 800,000 people and a new generation of fans. America play the Perth Concert Hall on Sunday, December 8.

You guys are about to tour Australia to celebrate almost 50 years of America. Where are you looking forward to playing the most? What are some of your favourite memories of Australia?

We’ve been coming here for many years since the 70s so our list of great memories are very long to be honest. I live here for about half the year. My wife and I have a home here in Sydney and also in Venice, California so it’s an opportunity to show a lot of our Australian friends that I actually have a real job and do some shows.

There’s never enough time. Tour dates are usually rushed and squeezed together but I can’t complain because I have so much time here where I’m not working.

You guys have been around since 1970 and, since then, there have been massive changes within the industry and especially technology. How do you feel about those changes? Do you think they have been beneficial to music?

You’re absolutely right. There have been immense changes and we have seen many of them over our years. There are some ironic elements – vinyl is having a comeback. We love the era of vinyl. We were children of that time when an album had two 20 minute sides. I think that was a golden age for music and those albums of the 60s and early 70s – the Pet Sounds and the Sgt Peppers are the pinnacle of the art that we try to create.

A lot of the technical aspects have been challenges, to incorporate streaming and the whole CD era and those are things where obviously, you can’t stop technology and advances but they are a challenge and I think with each new page of that book, you see people… not wrestling or struggling but adapting to those things. I personally love the era of experience and I think that goes beyond one pop song. Accumulatively, you could make a great album experience and I’m hoping those days are on their way back.

As mentioned, you’ve been in the industry for a couple of years now, what have been some of the most important lessons that you have learned over the years?

It sounds cliché but, as I do, on occasion, speak with musicians and songwriters, I try and make a point that the strongest thing that all of us can bring to the table is the unique element that is ourselves. That if you try to spend too much time to emulate other people, you’re really denying all the abilities of the craft that you might yourself be responsible for.

Now it doesn’t mean that you can’t chase your tail or I wanna be like this person or that person because, to a certain extent, there is a science to it. Find who does what you want to do and then emulate them.

If and when you do succeed, you know that what you have contributed and what you’re being lauded for is really of you and about you. It’s not some producer who got you to cut this tune or it’s not a whim that you were bending to someone else’s desires. You know that it has come from deep within you.

Do you find writing easier these days? And how do you deal with writer’s block?

I know all about writer’s block but I have to be honest and say not from experience. I’ve been very fortunate over my time to be quite prolific. I use the equation, I always say that I come from the school where you have to write ten to get two. It doesn’t mean that the other eight you don’t use are no good but I just think the more you work at it, the better your chances are at drawing something.

I, like most artists, know when I think I succeed. It’s not always the case but I have never been short of material. I always travel with a list of titles, scribbling song ideas, melodies.

To me, the only challenge is time. I might not always have enough time as I want to sit in the studio and hash out ideas but that is because we have a rich, professional life that takes us travelling about 200 days a year. Both Dewey (Bunnell) and I are family men with wives and children and stuff and they deserve our upmost focus. Can’t do it all, you know?

Do you find that your audiences are older generation fans that have followed your music for a long time? Or do you see a newer generation of young fans just discovering your music now?

Fortunately, the answer is both. We grew up doing shows with our dear friends The Beach Boys and look out at their audience and go, how amazing to see these little kids in families dancing around to these great songs and obviously, these children weren’t born when the music was out but it was a great indicator of the power of song and how DNA can be passed down. Twenty or 30 years later we started to see the same thing with generations starting to amass at our shows. Having said that, there is a whole new batch of people who seems to be discovering our music on their own.

Not sure if it’s playlists, Spotify or what’s really responsible… resurgence of vinyl maybe? We are seeing a lot more younger people coming to the shows and I don’t mean because their parents forced them too. They’re coming on their own and it’s a real treat. It’s an honour to see them.

You are also into photography (along with your son Joe). Do you ever go out shooting with him? And what’s your favourite style of photography?

I steer away from studio. I don’t do any studio work although I am a huge fan of people who master the studio. I love that work, I just don’t know anything about it. I do shoot with my son. He will often shoot me. He’s a fantastic photographer and we always need new pictures. I have a solo album coming out soon which he did all the photography for. I just shoot for my travels. My hobby developed from emailing. Instead of sending postcards, I would shoot where I am and what I’ve been doing so mine is a bit more of a travel log. I would have to say that my favourite would be Eggleston – William Eggleston. I’m a huge fan of his work.

What is one moment in your career that you look back on now and still can’t believe that it actually happened?

We did a show with The Beach Boys in Washington DC. It was a July 4th celebration and there was music all day but we played to 800,000 people so that’s a pretty big crowd.

Being on tour can be tough on mental health and general well being. How do you go with touring and do you have any strategies to keep your spirits up?

That’s a very good point. The travel itself is the really draining part. The shows are just rewarding from start to finish but if you consider that sometimes, just getting from city to city might be 18 hours of airports and vans and lounges and stuff; it can really be a challenge and I’ve seen all different versions on how to cope with this emotionally and stuff.

I think a lot of it is not rocket science. You have to try and stay centered. You have to try and keep a lid on the partying and all of those things. Those things are cumulatively exhausting – they wear you down. It might be a big part of your early years but I guarantee as you start to log your time, you’ve got to start getting those parts under control or you won’t be able to do the other part.

Do you still go out and actively seek out new music? And is there any genre that you just can’t get into?

(Laughs) I don’t go out to many shows to be honest. Having said that, we did go out last night to a friend’s show but he’s a comedian. Fred Armisen was playing here in Sydney and he’s a friend of ours from Saturday Night Live.

I’m not crazy about techno music and raves and stuff where the DJ’s just up there thumping with a laptop. I know it’s a real talent and ability and my younger son used to go to them all the time but to me, it’s something that I can skip.

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